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Cao Li
Cao Li  (1954 —         )
Cao Li was born in 1954 in Guizhou, Guiyang province where he attended primary and middle school and was recognized as a child prodigy. He is a multi-talented artist and musician. In the early 1970s, he began a private study of oil painting, although he was assigned an official Cultural Revolution era job as a steel beam construction worker. In 1978, at the encouragement of friends, he entered the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing, graduated from its Mural Painting Department in 1982 and became a teaching assistant there. In 1988, he held his first one-man exhibition at the Central Academy and continued to work at the school in the capacity of lecturer. He took a one year sabbatical in 1991 to study privately in Europe, traveling in France and Spain. When he returned in 1992, he became an associate professor in the Mural Painting Department and is today head of the department. He has had six monographs published on his work and numerous exhibitions of his paintings have been presented throughout Asia and Europe.


 

  • Horses, A Series, #7, 1986
    Oil on Canvas
    61" x 64" (154.9cm x 162.5cm)

    About this work

    Cao Li says that his paintings, like poetry, are combinations of imagination and reality and that sometimes he feels as if he lives in a dream world that he inhabits in his waking hours, his paintings being a reflection of that world. Consistent themes in Cao Li's paintings are the horse, birds, musicians, and the nude figure; the horse because he was born in the Year of the Horse, birds because they represent absolute freedom, musicians because he has been one since childhood, and the nude figure because to him it represents the dream state. "Horses, A Series, #7" emphasizes the angularity of the horses bodies while drawing upon a unique Chinese device practiced in traditional brush painting that allows the viewer to see the subject from a multi-level perspective. The fluidity of the brush strokes adds yet another reference to traditional 'guohua' (brush) painting.   

  • Opened Notebook, 1995
    Oil on Canvas
    70" x 118" (177.8cm x 299.7cm)

    About this work

    "Opened Notebook" is autobiographical and includes both real world and dream world experiences. It reflects the artist's development on many levels and utilizes all of his themes; the horse because Cao Li was born in the Year of the Horse, birds because they represent absolute freedom, musicians because he has been one since childhood, and the nude figure because to him it represents the dream state. It is painted with a limited palette of greys and browns. The contrast of a central, horizontally floating figure becomes the focal point of the piece.   

  • The Last Song, 1996
    Oil on Canvas
    72" x 102" (182.8cm x 259.1cm)

    About this work

    Cao Li has said, "This painting represents a celebration of the China I knew, but is changing. At a typical Chinese funeral, the last song that is sung or played is always the best song. It celebrates the life of the deceased and brings happy memories." It contains Cao Li's recurring themes; the horse, birds, musicians, and the nude figure.   

  • Laterite, 2002
    Oil on Canvas
    55" x 71" (139.7cm x 180.3cm)

    About this work

    Cao Li says that his paintings, like poetry, are combinations of imagination and reality and that sometimes he feels as if he lives in a dream world that he inhabits in his waking hours, his paintings being a reflection of that world. Consistent themes in Cao Li's paintings are the horse, birds, musicians, and the nude figure; the horse because he was born in the year of the horse, birds because they represent absolute freedom, musicians because he has been one since childhood, and the nude figure because to him it represents the dream state.   

  • Winged Nude and Horse, 2002
    Oil on Canvas
    54" x 70" (137.2cm x 177.8cm)

    About this work

    Cao Li says that his paintings, like poetry, are combinations of imagination and reality and that sometimes he feels as if he lives in a dream world that he inhabits in his waking hours, his paintings being a reflection of that world. Consistent themes in Cao Li's paintings are the horse, birds, musicians, and the nude figure; the horse because he was born in the year of the horse, birds because they represent absolute freedom, musicians because he has been one since childhood, and the nude figure because to him it represents the dream state.   

  • Stereoscopic Horse, 2002
    Oil on Canvas
    47" x 35" (119.4cm x 88.9cm)

    About this work

    Cao Li has always been drawn to the horse as a subject for his art in various mediums. He says it is in part because he was born in the year of the horse, but also because he likes interpreting the muscular figure of the animal. In Stereoscopic Horse, painted in 2002, Cao Li has utilized what Westerners might define as a Cubist style, yet this multi-view perspective is something Chinese artists have used for centuries in traditional brush painting. Cao Li has simply updated it, contrasting not only color and value, but texture and detail. The artist says he has no literal translation for the title, however, a viewer might assume that if one were to look at a picture of this horse through a stereoscope, the image would be three dimensional.   

  • Horse #1, 2003
    Oil on Canvas
    35 1/2" x 46" (90.2cm x 116.8cm)

    About this work

    Cao Li says that his paintings, like poetry, are combinations of imagination and reality and that sometimes he feels as if he lives in a dream world that he inhabits in his waking hours, his paintings being a reflection of that world. Consistent themes in Cao Li's paintings are the horse, birds, musicians, and the nude figure; the horse because he was born in the year of the horse, birds because they represent absolute freedom, musicians because he has been one since childhood, and the nude figure because to him it represents the dream state.   

  • Dialogue, 2003
    Oil on Canvas
    16" x 16" (40.6cm x 40.6cm)

    About this work

    Cao Li says that his paintings, like poetry, are combinations of imagination and reality and that sometimes he feels as if he lives in a dream world that he inhabits in his waking hours, his paintings being a reflection of that world. Consistent themes in Cao Li's paintings are the horse, birds, musicians, and the nude figure; the horse because he was born in the year of the horse, birds because they represent absolute freedom, musicians because he has been one since childhood, and the nude figure because to him it represents the dream state.   

  • The Flute Player, 1987
    Oil on Canvas
    24" x 28" (61cm x 71cm)

    About this work

    Cao Li says that his paintings, like poetry, are combinations of imagination and reality and that sometimes he feels as if he lives in a dream world that he inhabits in his waking hours, his paintings being a reflection of that world.

  • Abstract Series No. 4, 1987
    Oil on Canvas
    24" x 27" (60cm x 69cm)

    About this work

    Cao Li says that his paintings, like poetry, are combinations of imagination and reality and that sometimes he feels as if he lives in a dream world that he inhabits in his waking hours, his paintings being a reflection of that world.

  • Pather Head Lin Chong, 1991
    Oil on Canvas
    5 1/8" x 6 1/4" (13.97cm x 15.88cm)

    About this work

    Cao Li says that his paintings, like poetry, are combinations of imagination and reality and that sometimes he feels as if he lives in a dream world that he inhabits in his waking hours, his paintings being a reflection of that world.

  • Girl in front of bridal chamber, 1991
    Oil on Canvas
    5 1/8" x 6 1/4" (13.97cm x 15.88cm)

    About this work

    Cao Li says that his paintings, like poetry, are combinations of imagination and reality and that sometimes he feels as if he lives in a dream world that he inhabits in his waking hours, his paintings being a reflection of that world.

  • Posterity, 1986
    Oil on Canvas
    24" x 24" (61cm x 61cm)

    About this work

    Cao Li says that his paintings, like poetry, are combinations of imagination and reality and that sometimes he feels as if he lives in a dream world that he inhabits in his waking hours, his paintings being a reflection of that world.

  • Abstract Series No. 6, 1987
    Oil on Canvas
    24" x 27" (60cm x 68cm)

    About this work

    Cao Li says that his paintings, like poetry, are combinations of imagination and reality and that sometimes he feels as if he lives in a dream world that he inhabits in his waking hours, his paintings being a reflection of that world.

     
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